Jeep promises “more of everything” for the latest version of its iconic off-roader.

“Redoing the Wrangler, it’s like Halley’s Comet,” says Ralph Gilles, Fiat Chrysler Automobiles Head of Design. “It only comes around once in a while.”

And while a new Wrangler arrives far more often than every 74 years, just like the comet, there are many eyes trained upon the all-new Jeep. That’s why the officials and engineers stress that they made no compromises in developing the JL-generation Wrangler, promising more of everything: more power, more features, more off-road ability.

“In fact the only thing that isn’t more is weight,” says Mike Manley, head of the Jeep brand.

2018 Jeep Wrangler
2018 Jeep Wrangler
2018 Jeep Wrangler
2018 Jeep Wrangler

The hood, doors, and windshield frame are now all made from the aluminum; the outgoing, JK-generation Wrangler, used no aluminum at all in the U.S. market.

That’s because the 2018 Jeep Wrangler loses about 200 pounds compared to its predecessor. Approximately half of that diet comes from the new frame design, which uses far more high-strength steel than before, yet still is more rigid than the old Wrangler’s frame. The other half comes from using aluminum for many body panels. The hood, doors, and windshield frame are now all made from the lightweight material; the outgoing, JK-generation Wrangler, used no aluminum at all in the U.S. market. Aluminum is also employed for the rear swing gate, along with magnesium.

Many parts are, of course, still steel. The rear fenders, for instance, remain steel in part because they’re most likely to get dinged and scraped when off-roading, and un-bending steel is simpler than fixing aluminum. And the sport bars – they run from the cargo area, above the doors, and down to form the A-pillars – are still high-strength steel.

The structural changes are also intended to help the 2018 Wrangler pass the rigorous Insurance Institute for Highway Safety small-overlap crash test. The outgoing Wrangler two-door scored only “Marginal” in that test, though the four-door Unlimited managed a “Good” rating.

As was made clear by teaser photos, it’s now far easier to fold down the Wrangler’s windshield. (Mark Allen, head of Jeep design, says the manufacturing and engineering teams “hated” developing that.) Where the old Wrangler’s windshield needed 28 bolts to be removed before it could fold, and doing so would crack some of the paint around the windshield surround, the new one will flip down after undoing just four bolts. The Jeep’s tool kit includes the appropriate socket to remove those bolts, as well as a bracket to fasten the windshield to the footman loops on the hood to hold it in place while driving. And once the windshield is folded, it can be fully removed by pulling just two more bolts.

2018 Jeep Wrangler
2018 Jeep Wrangler
2018 Jeep Wrangler
2018 Jeep Wrangler

One of the big challenges in designing the 2018 Wrangler was improving visibility. The new windshield is 1.5 inches taller than before, which helps, and the beltline was lowered; in fact, every piece of glass is enlarged.

The footman loops (those rubber blocks on the hood) now also house the windshield washers. And speaking of the hood, the JK’s was known to “flutter” significantly at highway speeds, so there’s a sturdier design for the exposed latches and a fender vent to relieve any built-up air pressure from the engine bay.

The 2018 Jeep Wrangler does not do away with its predecessor’s well-known shape, but there are many changes to modernize and update it. The grille design is now more of a keystone shape rather than totally square, says Allen, and the rounded headlights now “bend” the outside of the seven grille slots. The new bumper design is a little sleeker, and the daytime running lights and turn signals are now located on the front fenders (which will post a problem for aftermarket tweakers who remove or replace them). There are also halo-ring running lights in the LED headlights. The Jeep logo moves from the grille to the front fender.

Allen says that one of the big challenges in designing the 2018 Wrangler was improving visibility. The new windshield is 1.5 inches taller than before, which helps, and the beltline was lowered; in fact, every piece of glass is enlarged.

The door hinges remain exposed because the Jeep faithful hated a design study with hidden hinges; they now have a “T50” engraving to indicate which of the included tools should be used to remove the doors. The door handles have been changed to a more traditional design following customer feedback.

2018 Jeep Wrangler
2018 Jeep Wrangler
2018 Jeep Wrangler
2018 Jeep Wrangler

“Aero is a challenge for Wrangler, honestly,” Allen admits, though the new model does have a nine-percent lower drag coefficient than before.

Out back, there’s an integrated lip above the rear window that Allen describes as the Wrangler’s first-ever spoiler. “Aero is a challenge for Wrangler, honestly,” he admits, though the new model does have a nine-percent lower drag coefficient than before.

The rear window is larger, and the windshield wiper motor is now at the bottom, hidden behind the spare tire, to improve visibility. For the first time ever, there’s a factory-installed backup camera. Included as standard, it sits in the mounting hole for the full-size spare tire. A special plastic cover must be removed from the camera before pulling the spare tire. And yes, Jeep has made sure the camera housing is tough enough to withstand owners hamfistedly pulling the spare on and off the camera mount. More visibility improvement comes from the fact that the back-seat headrests can flip down, another Wrangler first.

Compared to the last Wrangler, the front wheels on this one have moved forward by 1.5 inches to fit the new eight-speed automatic transmission (more on that later), while the rear wheels moved back by 1.0 inch in the two-door and 1.5 inches in the four-door Unlimited to improve rear legroom.

There are three top designs. First, there’s a hardtop option; it now features a longer “gutter” along its edge to support roof racks. And the removable “Freedom Top” panels are lighter and remove with simpler latches.

2018 Jeep Wrangler
2018 Jeep Wrangler
2018 Jeep Wrangler
2018 Jeep Wrangler

There's a new powered soft top. More like a giant canvas sunroof than a true convertible, it nonetheless is an easy-to-use configuration for sun-worshippers.

Second, there’s an updated convertible top. Allen admits that removing and reinstalling the soft top on the last Wrangler Unlimited was a huge nuisance (I agree; I remember pinching my fingers several times trying to reinstall the top). So a new design comes apart more easily: no more zippers, no more velcro. Latches loosen the top, and each panel simply slides out of the next. The top can be left intact in a cantilever-like design without any of the side panels, even at highway speeds. And when you’re ready to stow it, it flips back and stores above the cargo area in one slick, smooth motion.

Finally, there’s a new powered soft top. More like a giant canvas sunroof than a true convertible, it nonetheless is an easy-to-use configuration for sun-worshippers. Unlike the other two tops, however, the powered version is not intended to be removed.

Underhood, the base engine remains Jeep’s tried-and-true 3.6-liter V6, with engine stop-start tech and either a six-speed manual or an eight-speed automatic (which replaces a five-speed). It’s rated for 285 horsepower and 260 pound-feet of torque, just like the 2017 version. Fuel economy improves noticeably; the four-door Wrangler Unlimited will be rated for 17 miles per gallon city and 23 mpg highway with the manual, and 18/23 mpg with the automatic. That’s versus 16/20 and 16/21, respectively, for the outgoing model.

Jeep will also offer a 2.0-liter turbocharged inline-four, which is rated for 268 hp and 295 lb-ft. It will mate only to the automatic transmission. It’s a mild-hybrid powertrain, with a belt starter-generator and a 48-volt battery; though not intended to necessarily drive on all-electric power, Jeep says the mild-hybrid setup improves stop-start performance and low-speed acceleration. The hybrid, by the way, has no impact on off-roading ability or fording depth, the latter of which Jeep quotes as 30 inches when traveling at 5 miles per hour.

2018 Jeep Wrangler
2018 Jeep Wrangler
2018 Jeep Wrangler
2018 Jeep Wrangler

“At a future model year,” the Wrangler will add a 3.0-liter turbodiesel engine, but for now Jeep officials have no more details on that powertrain. Yes, you read that right: a diesel Wrangler is coming to the U.S. market.

“At a future model year,” the Wrangler will add a 3.0-liter turbodiesel engine, but for now Jeep officials have no more details on that powertrain. Yes, you read that right: a diesel Wrangler is coming to the U.S. market.

As before, the Wrangler will offer a selectable transfer case with two- or four-wheel drive options. New for 2018, however, is the option of a “4Auto” automatic mode on the Sahara trim level. The Dana axles on all models (Dana 44s on the tough Rubicon trim) are all upgraded for the new generation, too.

As to off-road ability, Wrangler chief engineer Brian Leyes says that the maximum crawl ratio (i.e. when the transfer case is in 4-Low) has improved from 73:1 to 84:1, and that the mapping of the drive-by-wire throttle has been improved to make low-speed maneuvering more precise.

The Rubicon trim level remains the most off-road-focused; it’ll be offered with both the V6 and the turbo engine. Compared to the Sport and Sahara, it sits about an inch higher, thanks to 33-inch off-road tires – the largest tires the Wrangler has ever worn from the factory – as well as electric lockers front and rear, and electronically disconnecting anti-roll bars. It has higher fenders, too, that will accommodate up to 35-inch tires, a clear nod to the aftermarket. In fact, John Mrozowski, vehicle line executive for the Wrangler, says the new model is “package protected” for a two-inch lift and 35-inch tires. In other words, modders can fit those common aftermarket tweaks without screwing anything up.

He also notes that on-road handling should be improved thanks to the longer wheelbase and various other suspension tweaks. The power steering is now electrohydraulic rather than full hydraulic, and the Jeep’s turning radius has decreased even though its track width increases by an inch.

2018 Jeep Wrangler
2018 Jeep Wrangler
2018 Jeep Wrangler
2018 Jeep Wrangler

On-road handling should be improved thanks to the longer wheelbase and various other suspension tweaks. The Jeep’s turning radius has decreased even though its track width increases by an inch.

Drivers and passengers alike will enjoy what Ryan Patrick Joyce, design manager for Jeep brand interiors, describes as, “easily the most refined Wrangler interior we’ve ever made.” Its basic layout is unchanged, but with tweaks like more accessible and easier-to-use controls for the locking differentials and sway-bar disconnects; a new center console that can accommodate up to five smartphones; and a 50-percent larger center console that is illuminated, packs a USB port, and is roomy enough to hold an iPad. The door armrests and mesh pockets are longer, and a new armrest design makes it easier to carry the doors when they’re removed: just loop your arm through the open window and grab the handle. That change came about, in part, because Joyce dropped a Wrangler’s door when he and Manley went off-roading and removed the doors from their Jeep.

A new instrument cluster houses a color trip computer, as well as an indicator of the transfer-case position. Adjacent to the window switches, you’ll find two USB ports and an auxiliary audio port; another USB port and a 115-volt outlet are available in the back row.

Joyce notes that there are lots of real metal trim pieces inside; an optional “Redical” trim matches the red of the Rubicon’s functional recovery hooks. A new rubberized surround around the infotainment system is thicker and tougher, because Jeep officials noted that passengers often grabbed onto the screen to brace themselves when off-roading. Cargo room is unchanged.

New tech features include blind-spot monitoring, thanks to sensors integrated in the taillights, as well as forward-collision warning with automatic braking. Lane-keep assist will not be offered.

Jeep has already revealed that it will have more than 200 dealer-installed aftermarket parts, through the Mopar and Jeep Performance Parts brands, available at launch. They include an air-intake snorkel, the first time Jeep has ever offered one of those, as well as tubular doors, also a Mopar/Jeep first. Much of the Wrangler’s design was intended to make aftermarket modding easier: note the exposed bolt holds on the panel at the base of the windshield, for instance, and the various functional exposed bolt heads inside. In fact, the under-trunk storage tray has special holders specifically to store bolts for the doors/windshield frame/etc when they’re removed.

2018 Jeep Wrangler
2018 Jeep Wrangler
2018 Jeep Wrangler
2018 Jeep Wrangler

There’s even a new auxiliary-power configuration, with four “Aux” power switches in the center stack that can be configured to be always live or only when the key is on. Jeepers have always wanted to add more powered devices (lights, radios, winches, etc), but now Joyce says, “You don’t have to drill any more holes.”

Towing capacities are unchanged, at 2,000 pounds for two-door and 3,500 pounds for four-door models.

It sure seems that Jeep has delivered on the promising of providing more of everything with the 2018 Wrangler. Set to go on sale in the first quarter of 2018 – there will be a slight overlap as production of the old JK model winds down – it will deliver even more of what Wrangler enthusiasts want for off-roading, as well as more on-road livability for casual buyers.

All that remains now is for us to get behind the wheel and sling some mud on those fenders; stay tuned for our First Drive in the coming weeks.

 

Gallery: 2018 Jeep Wrangler